A section consisting of interviews with various colleagues.
Teacher Interview (with Don Sills)
Teachers hold a significant importance in our lives to help enrich and inspire students to work hard and grow as an academic learner. More often than not, students are thoroughly inspired by their own mentors and go off in order to educate students to become scholarly figures just as their teachers have done before them. I have had a great opportunity to have a one-on-one interview with one of my former teachers who has inspired me to look towards music education for my future aspiration. Mr. Don (Donald Duck) Sills has given me inspiration and encouragement throughout my four years at Catholic Central High School, and he has also given me his own insight into education in our society, creativity, as well as the importance of expression through the teaching of music.
Being a graduate of the Don Wright Faculty of Music in 2003, as well as having his Bachelor of Musical Arts, Don has had multiple years of experience in being a teacher in both primary and secondary schools. He was mainly involved in courses training him in performance, thinking that he himself wanted to become a professional chorister. However, he began to show interest in choral conducting and decided that he would go into education. From there, he went on to graduate from teacher’s college in 2005, and since then, he has been grateful to work with many educators and conductors, such as Gerald Neufeld, Ken Fleet, Brenda Zadorsky, John Barron, Jen Moir and many more mentors. He has been a vocal teacher at Catholic Central High School for nearly eight years and has been part of the Amabile Choir for twenty years. With all of his experience within the world of music, I feel that this was what drew me to getting an interview with Don.
I was curious as to what he thinks it means to be a teacher in today’s ever-changing society. Seeing that behaviour and ‘trends’ are constantly shifting from each successive generation of students, he shared his own perspective on the role of a teacher: “It means a lot, in a sense of how to encourage the next generation to be the best they can. People that go into this profession have an interest in the next generation, and there is just so much to do in the sense of being a big brother, a caregiver, a mentor, to inspire them, which most students aren’t getting from home, institutions or other ways.” This was one of the things that made me interested into his ideology of the next generation. He also added that there is this stigma that the next generation of students is worse than the last and that, being an educator, teachers should work on making sure that those students can become good contributors to our society.
One of the things that inspired me throughout my high school experience in music was his creativity. I felt that he was experimenting with various ideas not only within the classroom, but outside of school as well, through concerts, festivals and competitions. As we have seen from Lesley Dawe’s article, some people are not fond of other teachers trying to be creative in the classroom. There were also times where Don felt his creative ideas were being challenged. Most of these experiences were centered around adjudication at a choral festival, in which Don felt that he was given an ‘unfair’ adjudication due to the repertoire or the performance aspect of his ensemble. “At the time, it was more of my ego [showing], instead of realizing that this was an educational moment for myself, and to realize that there’s lots of room to grow.” We also discussed why other people would criticize educators for their own creativity both in the classroom and outside the school system. “People might have more experience and see things that you might not see. I’m very lucky because of the highly gifted mentors I’ve had to be able to not have such of a learning curve in the creative side; people, for the most part, like what we do.” I believe that this is one of the difficulties of being an educator, especially in music where there is a changing perspective of what is deemed right or wrong in the world of music. As he continues to teach within the school system, Don is consistent with trying to approach that challenge as an educational moment for himself, instead of letting his ego take over.
Throughout my experience in the music extension program at Catholic Central High School, I can see that Don thoroughly enjoys every class he gets to teach. Particularly in his music classes as a choral conductor, he shared his viewpoint on what it is like to educate students through music. “Choral conducting has such freedom to express yourself musically.” Being in his choirs in school and in the London community, I’ve often heard him saying the expression “It’s like driving a Cadillac” many times before. Don describes this feeling as a conductor “…where you can just shape and mold a musical phrase and the choir responds. That’s great freedom, and it’s very rewarding having a choir at your control. For me, it’s not necessarily an ego thing, it’s like ‘let’s do this together’ sort of thing.” I have seen on many occasions where he’s enjoying himself in front of his music stand listening to the development of each chorister and the choir as a whole. Don seems to focus on the growth of a relationship between the mentor and its pupil, and I feel that music educators should work on implementing this ideology into their ensembles in order to collaborate together and work as one unit in order to grow musically and socially.
As I don’t have much time in my schedule to go back and revisit my high school on a regular basis, I got the chance to visit a Grade 12 music class he was teaching right after my interview. It was exciting to see the relationships being built not only with Don, but with the other students in the classroom. Seeing that it was the first few days into the new semester, and the last year they will be in the music program, Don gave each student a chance to discuss what they enjoyed being in the program and what they are thinking of doing after high school ends. Through this, Don is opening up the room for discussion and makes sure that each student feels included as everyone can complement each other’s aspirations in life. Not only that, but Don is also continuing to build his relationships with his pupils, whether it be as a chorister or as an everyday student. He ensures that each student is trying to reach their potential and that he can do his best to create a better teaching environment.
I enjoyed having a conversation with my former mentor and hearing what he had to say on the various topics we discussed. Through this interview, I felt that I got a better understanding of his philosophy of teaching is. I feel that his philosophy of teaching is that there should be a good sense of connection between a student and their teacher, not only in the classroom, but outside, as well as in the ensemble. There should be a mentality in the classroom where teachers will help students in their own development, and that music can help further build that relationship. Once again, I had a great time having a talk with my former music teacher, and I hope that what I can take out of this can help me in my future endeavors to become a music educator. I can’t wait until the next time I see him… which is in choir rehearsal for Amabile.